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Transcending figurative art

Three new exhibitions at the French Cultural Centre showcase the work of emerging local and international artists on contemporary Cambodia

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One of the works from "Sarong et Krama."

A NEW exhibition showcasing the work of five young artists will open at the French Cultural Centre  (CCF) today, representing a cross-section of expatriate and local perspectives on contemporary Cambodia.

The exhibition, which includes students from Battambang's Phare Ponleu Selpak art school and a visiting artist from France, Julie Besson, has no particular thematic focus but is a good representation of the CCF's long-standing aim of aiding and promoting emerging local talent.

Magali Poivert, animatrice culturel of the CCF, said one of the aims of such exhibitions was to push young Cambodian artists beyond the bounds set by traditional figurative art forms.

"We try as much as we can to encourage young artists in Cambodia and help them go on with their work and not just remain within traditional [forms]," she said. "Art school in Cambodia is very traditional, and we try to encourage them to get involved with more contemporary art."

Indeed, the work of the students from Phare Ponleu Selpak - Chhin Borty and siblings Sin and Bo Rithy - is evidence that the young artists have started to experiment with a hybrid of traditional and modern portrait forms.

For "Sarong et Krama", each artist was tasked with producing a series of 10 composite painting-collages that integrate the use of oils and krama and sarong cloths.

Poivert said the artists were given free rein on the works, but each seems to deal with the position of women in Cambodian society and interpretations about relationships and sexuality.

Inspired by meditation

For his first show at the CCF, established painter and sculptor Meas Sokhorn will present "Burning Box", a collection of large barbed-wire sculptures.

Although superficially redolent of the coiled barbed wire that frames Phnom Penh's Tuol Sleng prison, Meas Sokhorn said the works' abstract forms were inspired by a more peaceful meditation on the smoke curling from the end of his cigarette.

"[The barbed-wire] represents the border between insecurity and security, want and lack of want," he said. "That's why I used that medium."

Meas Sokhorn, who holds a diploma in interior design from the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA), has taken part in over 20 group and solo exhibitions in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

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Meas Sokhorn's wire sculpture.

Although the works on display are the first to incorporate barbed wire, they are consistent with his constant desire to experiment with new materials, which he acquired as a student at RUFA.

"I have tried to make something that's new - using a new medium or new materials - and using traditional forms."

French artist Julie Besson, who has worked in Cambodia since September, has also created a multimedia installation work for the exhibition, which she says is the culmination of a 15-year project, an exploration of "time, space and memory".

Back in France, Besson set out to track down the mother of a childhood friend who had survived the Khmer Rouge regime.

"I remembered [my friend's] stories and I tracked her down in France 10 or 15 years later," she said.

Finally locating the woman at a Chinese restaurant in Grenoble, Besson listened to her stories and has created "Mom", a multifaceted installation that recreates the memories of her own research into the woman's past.

The installation includes a photographic collage tracking the search and discovery of the woman and a large black-and-white painting depicting scenes near Oudong, close to where the woman was interned during the Khmer Rouge era.

"Mom" and "Burning Box" will be showing until May 2. "Sarong et Krama" will be on display until June 6.

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